Student Loan Help

Now heading into its fifth year, a Tufts program offers alumni working in the public sector assistance in paying off some of their education debt

photo of students on the Tufts Medford/Somerville campus

Many Tufts graduates are eager to take jobs in the public sector, working in community health clinics, teaching children with special needs, conducting environmental research or raising money for nonprofits. But they sometimes face a formidable obstacle to a life of service: lower salaries can mean it’s harder to pay back student loans.

The Tufts Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP), which started in 2008, reduces that barrier by helping to repay a portion of those loans. In what is believed to be the first university-wide program of this kind in the country, Tufts’ LRAP has given more than 1,115 awards to alumni totaling about $435,000 annually over the past four years. Awards range from $500 to $5,000 annually, and applicants need to reapply each year. Alumni working in full-time public service jobs who are paying off educational loans incurred while they were at Tufts are eligible to apply. LRAP awards are based on income and the amount of outstanding loans. Applications for the 2012 award year are due Sept. 1, and can be found at the LRAP website.

Judi Kennedy, the program’s administrator, says it’s important for students and alumni to keep in mind that the program does not offer loan forgiveness and that it should not be the sole factor that determines a Tufts graduate’s choice to work in the public or nonprofit sector. But, she adds, “We hope if that’s their passion, this will help them pursue that.” Kennedy says the program continues to be a success, with 324 applicants last year, while LRAP recipients say the awards have helped ease their concern about paying back student loans, enabling them to pursue careers they find rewarding.

Funding for Tufts’ LRAP is provided by income from the Omidyar-Tufts Microfinance Fund, which was established in 2005 with a $100 million gift from Tufts graduates Pierre Omidyar, A88, the founder of eBay, and his wife, Pamela Omidyar, J89, and a donation from the estate of George B. and Helen J. Hargens. 

For Joshua Strauss, F05, the loan program has reinforced his commitment to public service. After a stint in the Boston regional office of the Peace Corps, he is now a program specialist in child nutrition for the northeast regional office of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service. LRAP has helped “take the sting” out of some of his student loans, he says. “I believe the public sector has a great responsibility in keeping the country together, and I want to help make that happen.”

Some LRAP recipients have received multiple awards. One such recipient is Anthony Pasquale, D07, a staff dentist at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, where he treats disabled veterans. He also sees patients in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program. He has been helped by LRAP awards over four years.“These patients tend to have increased medical needs,” he says, “so it is critical to have highly trained individuals to care for them.”

The nonprofit sector involves many fields. Angela Brink, G08, who earned a master’s degree in art history and a certificate in museum studies, works in member relations at Boston’s Museum of Science. She borrowed about $18,000 for graduate school, and has received awards from LRAP over four years. Brink says she always wanted to work for a museum. Her certificate program, she says, helped her make great connections in the Boston area.

Zachary Dubin, A07, who works in fundraising at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, owes about $30,000, and has so far received a total of $3,500 over four years from LRAP. “I truly enjoy feeling like part of an important cause,” he says. “It’s incredibly rewarding work.”

For Jessica Nackel, A06, not only has her LRAP award helped, but her Tufts education helped her find her calling as a special education teacher, working with students with learning or emotional disabilities. She says several of her Tufts professors instilled in her the idea of public service and encouraged her to go into special education. “I believe my job is important because I am educating a community that has not had the same opportunities as I have,” she says. “I am beyond thankful that Tufts has provided me with the LRAP award.”

In her fifth year as a staff dentist for the Winnebago tribe of Nebraska, Erin Rolf, D07, is paying off substantial loans. Her three LRAP awards have relieved some of the pressure. “I realize I could earn more in the private sector, but I enjoy my choice,” she says, “because I know I am helping those who may not be able to afford dental care elsewhere.”

Katie Cinnamond contributed to this story.

Marjorie Howard can be reached at

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